An American biologist attending a big conference in Berlin awakens from a coma after a car accident, only to discover that someone has taken his identity and that no one, not even his wife, believes him. Then people try to kill him. With the help of an illegal immigrant and a former Stazi agent, he sets out to prove who he is and find out why this is happening.
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Earlier this year I wrote a two part article about those movies coming out in 2011 that I was looking forward to. Unknown was number three in that list and that ended up being way too high. This film is yet another story of how a well made trailer can trick you into thinking it’s going to be a good film. It seemed to be marketed as another Taken type movie, once the end credits started to role; you know it was all a lie. Even the poster tricks you, Neeson’s character never even handles a gun in the film.
Dr. Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) has just arrived in Berlin for a botany conference where he will be meeting with a well respected German professor. He has brought along his lovely wife (January Jones) on this trip and after exiting their taxi cab from the ride from the airport to their hotel, he finds that he has left his briefcase at the airport. He leaves his wife at the hotel and hops into another taxi, driven by Gina (Diane Kruger). On the way back to the airport, Gina drives the taxi off the road and into a river, where she saves Martin from drowning but leaves him unconscious with the paramedics.
He awakens in a hospital four days later with a fractured memory, wondering why his wife isn’t there. Once he finally locates her, she has no idea who he is and seemingly has a different husband with the name Dr. Martin Harris (Aiden Quinn), sending the “real” Martin Harris played by Neeson into a spiral of the “who am I’s”. This new Martin Harris has all the things he needs to prove that he’s not the imposter, family photos, passports, websites, etc. For the rest of the film, Neeson’s trying to find out how to expose the imposter and find out if he even really is who he thinks he is.
Just writing that gets confusing, so I’m sure it reads like that also. It’s not overly confusing when you see the film though. It is an interesting idea for a movie; it’s just not well executed. The acting really is off, even for Neeson who can hold his own in any movie. When you decide to put January Jones in your movie, from what I’ve seen so far, you’re not really putting her in your film because you want quality. She goes through four different emotions in the film and she delivers her lines in each of those emotions the same bored way, like someone stole Obama’s teleprompter and put it in front of her. Even Frank Langella is just as wooden and he’s actually a good actor. Diane Kruger was fine, but I couldn’t help continue to hear a horrible accent coming out of her mouth. There was a standout performance by Bruno Ganz, who some will know from the myriad of “Hitler finds out” videos on YouTube sans the mustache. If anything, this movie wins points for making me want to watch Bruno in Downfall again.
It does hit its desired notes well in certain areas. You get frustrated with Neeson’s character as he tries to prove who he is and being unable to do so. The action is good, with a very good car chase in the middle. And a couple of the twists actually do work. The problem is that it never really gets the viewer to engage in the story or the characters and a lot of that had to do with the casting and or acting. When Martin decides to do the “right thing”, it makes no sense…why would his character do that after what he has gone through to try to remember who he is? That was the biggest flaw for me in this film, it’s ending made no real sense and its seeking to give its characters final redemption falls flat, so very flat. They had the chance to do the usual Hollywood thing, and say the people behind a kill plan were either conservatives or Christian fanatics, but didn’t, so kudos on that one. But do watch for the completely lame kumbaya type The Saint ending at the end of this film. Taken was a fantastic film and I can see why this movie would want to try and capitalize on that, but if it had tried to be its own film, I might have enjoyed it more.
2 stars out of 4 (would have gotten less, but Liam Neeson is just too danged cool)
First off, I’d like to make one thing clear: this movie certainly won’t last long in my memory. Don’t get me wrong, “Unknown” is a very interesting work; it has a highly intriguing concept that opens up great many possibilities. Unfortunately, it fell short as a done-and-done again cliché piece which doesn’t and cannot offer the audience anything fresh or innovative. Ten minutes into the movie and I already felt I’ve seen it before. Well, that’s saying something.
Liam Nelson stars as Dr. Martin Harris, an American scientist traveling to Berlin for a medical summit. An unexpected car accident sends him into a coma for four days. When he wakes up he finds himself stranded in a foreign country with a stolen identity and killers after him. Diane Kruger and January Jones costar, alongside big names such like Frank Langella.
While I was impressed by the early, misleading direction, “Unknown” doesn’t quite fool me. Something about the film feels sloppy. The way the filmmakers ignore essential details to persuade cinematic effect can sometimes be clotting the film and, therefore, leaving it overpopulated with chaos. The visually whirling car chase sequences---yes, there were multiples of them ---soon became not only unnecessary, but also extremely tiresome to watch. Introducing a new character 2/3 through the movie is perhaps the worst mistake a director can make, regardless of much of a big shot the actor portraying the character is.
Neeson’s Dr. Harris brings the eager desperation into the character itself, but fails to realize his own importance. From the moment Harris finds out about his situation, he’s stepping onto a roller coaster of purposeless search for something even he doesn’t quite sure what. The aimless action sequences keep colliding with each other to produce new story lines, disregarding the fact that it leaves behind a trail of unanswered questions. By the end of the film, the style changes so much that I almost felt like I was watching a completely different movie than the one from an hour ago. Although the surprise twist towards the end quite neatly ties up some of the loose ends, the overrated build-up and its somewhat perplexing conclusion left much to be desired.
On a positive note, the film kept me mystified all the way through, and I suppose that’s a good thing. I genuinely cared about the characters, and every twist and turn kept me on the edge of my seat. Mismatched as they may seem, Diane Kruger and Liam Neeson did share a couple of interesting moments. Despite the fairly banal the-other-woman scene with January Jones in the museum, Kruger brings the light into an otherwise gloomy and slightly agitated road-rage thriller that contains too few plausible moments to be thoroughly enjoyable.
Not a memorable piece, but no doubt a solid action thriller, “Unknown” knows how to capture the audience with its appealing concept and unusual direction, as well as its fast-paced cleanness. Certainly not the best Liam Neeson picture, but it’s still worth watching in every way.
After looking through the trailer, I was psyched to watch this. The plot, story, and actors all gave me the impression of a Bourne-type movie with a twist.
However, I came away watching it feeling it could have been so much more. Overall, the story was fantastic. The loss of identity, then the search, then the shocking revelation, etc. To some extents, it was even better than the Bourne trilogy in terms of the twists and unexpected findings. The major drawback, however, was the lack of energy on the actor's parts. I felt Neeson's role was somewhat confined (maybe due to the PG-13 rating), and his lack of energy and acting quality kind of left the supporting actors in a bad light as well.
With that said, I personally felt that the directors should not have cast Neeson as the main actor. He looked honestly uncomfortable throughout, or maybe it's just a terrible movie...
Great story, but it could have be better done, and as a result, been so much more.
Overall the film was good however, it wasnt Neeson's best. Still i would watch the film again and i did really enjoy the movie start to finish. The film grasped my attention and really did get me thinking, the plot twists and turns to give you a suprising conclusion. if you like 'Taken' you will also find this a good watch.
I was so looking forward to this movie (given the exciting trailers) but lack of quality acting on most everyone's part depicted a fragmented portrayal of what could have been an excellent movie. The editing was poor, and the chase scenes could have been more to-the-point and, although exciting, you ended up scratching your head saying "what the heck were they thinking" when they crafted this movie. Casting was a disaster, and too many situations that were unrealistic ruined the storyline. We were all cheering for Liam to come back strong, given his recent life's tragedy. It's a shame that he only seemed half-interested in acting during this movie.